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Decades behind bars for rapist priest

Gary Mercure, a former Catholic priest from the

Gary Mercure, a former Catholic priest from the Albany Diocese, stands trial in Berkshire County Massachusetts. (Feb. 9, 2011) Credit: AP /The Berkshire Eagle

PITTSFIELD, Mass. - Gary Mercure will spend more than two decades behind bars for raping two altar boys in the 1980s.

“You are no more than a common thug,” Berkshire County Judge John A. Agostini told the priest Wednesday afternoon.

Mercure was sentenced to 20 to 25 years in prison for three counts of forcible rape. He also was ordered to serve 3 to 5 years for one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14.

“My memories are dark and destroyed. My trust in humanity has been severely harmed. I will never shed the disgust and filthiness,” one of the victims told Mercure during a victim impact statement.

Mercure’s other victim said, “I hope the dark cloud may finally be lifted from me so I can live a normal life.” A Catholic priest with a long history of sexually assaulting young altar boys, the 62-year-old Mercure was found guilty Thursday for bringing two boys to the Berkshires in the 1980s and then raping them. He will serve his sentence at Cedar Junction, in Walpole, Mass.

During a poignant moment Wednesday, the mother’s of one of Mercure’s victims turned to face her now-grown son and apologized for failing to discover the abuse.

“I am so sorry I did not recognize your abuse until it was too late,” she said. “Father Gary it is time for you to have remorse and apologize to your victims.”

Mercure, who wore leg irons at his sentencing, said nothing during his sentencing. As he did after his conviction, Mercure smiled broadly as court officers led him away.

As Mercure, a Catholic priest from the Albany Diocese, awaited sentencing Wednesday, Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard said he is asking the Vatican to defrock him.

“Now that a conviction has been rendered by the jury in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I will be forwarding to the Vatican, specifically to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the matter of the sexual abuse of minors by Gary Mercure,” Hubbard wrote in a statement issued by the diocese Wednesday morning.

“I am recommending to the Vatican, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that Gary Mercure, already permanently removed in 2008 from all ministry in the church and forbidden to present himself as a priest in any way whatsoever, now be dismissed formally from the clerical state.” A Catholic priest with a long history of sexually assaulting young altar boys, the 62-year-old Mercure was found guilty Friday.

The jury deliberated for a little more than two hours before convicting him.

“While I, as Bishop of the Diocese of Albany, have the authority to remove a priest from all ministry and to forbid him from presenting himself as a priest, which I have already done, only the Vatican has the authority to dismiss a priest from the clerical state,” Hubbard wrote.

Mercure last served in Sacred Heart and St. William parishes in Troy before he was suspended from the ministry amid child rape accusations in January 2008.

First Assistant District Attorney Paul Caccaviello told jurors during the trial that Mercure used a variety of threats to keep the boys from telling their families or authorities. “To a young boy, his threats were like a knife to their throats,” Caccaviello said.

Five victims, all former altar boys at Our Lady of The Annunciation Parish in Queensbury, provided disturbing and emotional testimony during the trial that clearly upset jurors, several of whom cried while listening to the stories of abuse.

The victims said in some cases the abuse started when they were 8 and continued until they were 15 or 16. One victim said Mercure sexually assaulted him multiple times in one day. One victim testified that Mercure had him close his eyes and pray as a way to relax him while he was sexually abused.

“He even used the power of prayer to get his victims to relax,” Caccaviello said.

One victim’s mother testified that she found five pairs of her son’s bloodied underwear stuffed inside a wall of his bedroom. The victim said he was about 11 or 12 years old and hid the underwear after being raped by Mercure.

Mercure’s lawyer, Michael O. Jennings, suggested the two accusers conspired with advocates for victims of sex abuse by priests and made up their assertion that Mercure attacked them in Massachusetts as well as New York. The statute of limitations in New York had expired but was still in effect in Massachusetts. Jennings has said Mercure will appeal the conviction.

Mercure’s two Berkshire County victims testified they were abused in separate incidents in the parking lot at Brodie Mountain and in the parking lot of an Appalachian trail head, both in Berkshire County, in 1986 and 1989.

Three other victims said they were abused by Mercure while at Our Lady of the Annunciation Church but said they never traveled to Massachusetts with the priest.

The diocese does not pay Mercure but he gets pension payments for his 34 years as a priest. He is not provided housing by the church and no diocesan funds went to his defense, Goldfarb said.

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